“Shakespeare Bites Back”: A free e-book from The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

As the weekend is approaching I would like to recommend a free e-book if you are interested in the life and works of William Shakespeare. The e-book “Shakespeare Bites Back” (2011) is written by Dr. Paul Edmondson and Prof. Stanley Wells. It’s available to the public for free thanks to The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The aim of the Foundation “is to connect Shakespeare professionals, lovers and enthusiasts all over the world and to lead the world in democratizing Shakespeare in the digital age.” The main task of “Shakespeare Bites Back” relates to the controversy of authorship which has been much debated in this century. Therefore it’s a bit polemical too. The authors in this book do argue there are masses of evidence concluding Shakespeare was the author of all works attributed to him. They also conclude that “The nature of evidence is rich and varied”. Sadly, Edmondson & Wells states that “Until recently, Shakespeare scholars and the academic community at large have either opposed the conspiracy theory or stood alof from it.” They will introduce you to the Academic controversy and mere Conspiracy “theories”. The Shakespeare Authorship Conspiracy Theory has a history which can be dated back to Romanticism and the Gothic influenses some two hundred years ago.

I think it’s an important little book considering how we use Shakespeare today in movies for an example. The movie Anonymous (2011) gave extra fuel to the debate of authorship and I guess case isn’t closed when it comes to modern artistic interpretations of his life. I don’t mind artistic interpretations; but scholars should be in place to question; and help us see things with objectivity when presented “facts” are dubious or wrong no matter which field they emerge from. Here are some more important conclusions fighting Anti-Shakespearians:

Anti-Shakespearians may claim that they are ‘looking objectively’ at the evidence, but they never are. Their anti-Shakespearian bias prevents them from ever doing so. Instead, anti-Shakespearianism seeks first to deny the evidence for Shakespeare and then to position an alternative nominee in the gap Shakespeare has left behind. Anti-Shakespearianism is therefore synonymous with a denial of history, rather than with a revisionist and scholarly interpretation of the past.

You may take an extra look at the Pro-Shakespeare manifesto which also lists some of the important evidence:

Shakespeare puns on his own first name, William, in Sonnets 134, 135, 136 and 143. Sonnet 136 ends with ‘for my name is Will.’ We are in favour of a cautionary approach to making links between the works and their author’s life.

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Moonlight (2016) – The proustian moment

THIS week I went to see Moonlight directed by Barry Jenkins at the cinema; so I’m going to write about the movie here and therefore my post will contain spoilers. If you haven’t seen this movie yet which is based on a play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, written by McCraney; you can stop reading now. Moonlight received critical acclaim upon its release and was regarded as one of the best films of 2016. At the 74th Golden Globe Awards it won Best Motion Picture – Drama and was nominated in five other categories. The film received eight Oscar nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Ali, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins and McCraney.

Moonlight (2016)

The movie depicts the chronicle of the childhood, adolescence and burgeoning adulthood of a young black man growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. He’s known as Chiron and we watch his struggles since early schoolboy days growing up with a crack-addicted mother and being bullied at school. He’s quiet and has a hard time in his efforts to try communicating.  Words seems to fail him and adults complain he doesn’t speak much. He’s also a big time trying to escape his bullies and after being chased down the local drug dealer Juan finds him in his hiding place. He takes Chiron home and a lifetime friendship develop between them and Juan’s girlfriend Theresa. Although Juan sells drugs to Chiron’s mother Paula the friendship goes on through the years until Juan’s death. Chiron continues to be friend with Theresa. At High School young Chiron is bullied for being gay and doesn’t have any strength or potential friends to protect himself.

The Proustian moment in Moonlight

It was interesting to watch Moonlight because it does contain what is called a proustian moment.1 It’s communicated to us through Chiron’s High School friend Kevin who finally decides he will call Chiron and invite him to dinner where he works. At school they had an one-time sexual encounter at the beach and things could have gone well between them after that, but Kevin is talked into by Chiron’s bullies to hit him. They two men meet at the restaurant and it’s a bit of an awkward moment since they haven’t seen each other since high School. Kevin prepares a “chef’s special,” but Chiron is reluctant to speak or drink with his old friend who once knocked him out at school. Kevin seems taken a back that Chiron once silent and shy is a drug dealer making business in Atlanta. When he enters the restaurant tall and well build Kevin doesn’t recognize him. Chiron finally asks why he’s been summoned and Kevin reveals he thought of him after a customer who resembled Chiron entered the restaurant. He also remembered Chiron at that moment through a song. When he first called Chiron on the phone he promised to play that special song. The way this is communicated to the audience reveals Kevin’s proustian moment. Kevin tells Chiron that, although his life may not have turned out the way he hoped, he is still happy. He has a child and likes to work as a cook. The major similarity is that both men has done time. Chiron admits he has never been intimate with another person since their encounter on the beach. As Kevin comforts him, Chiron thinks back to his time as a child on the beach.

Sources

wikipedia.org

imdb.com

 

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  1. The term is also known as Proustian memory; or involuntary memory. Proust viewed involuntary memory as containing the “essence of the past”, claiming that it was lacking from voluntary memory. In his novel, he describes an incident where he was eating tea soaked cake, and a childhood memory of eating tea soaked cake with his aunt was “revealed” to him. 

When Emily Dickinson was critical about organized religion. A comment on poem 236

I like to make parallels between written text and biography; today the correct term would be biographical criticism. This method of interpreting any text has become quite popular, even if it’s got some obvious traps concerning objectivity. When were left out on information we tend to make own explanations and give in to speculations. THIS becomes obvious when we deal with the life of famous authors. We may possess certain data available to us through various records from archives which can explain why an author wrote as they did.

Poem 236

Some keep the Sabbath going to the Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

 

WHILE it seems obvious the poem takes a critical stance towards organized religion, such as worshipping in churches and listening to long sermons it doesn’t reveal so much on why she’s critical. She also produce an alternative; herself in nature and surrounding herself with nature she says she doesn’t need a church and experience religion through watching the God’s work in nature is enough for her. Let’s dive into some biographical reading on this poem and see if we can find some solutions on why she feels the way she does!

img_0837Emily Dickinson and Religion : Calvinism and revival in Amherst, Massachusetts

Themes like death and immortality are extremely common in Dickinson’s poetry. Plagued by ill-health all her life it’s not totally strange to understand her mind occupied many thoughts on these matters. Her social milieu and the society was governed by religious views and to alienate oneself from the congregation was very rare and likely looked upon as something negative and suspicious. Themes like death, immortality and Religion was not uncommon among nineteenth-century poets. It’s somewhat strange Dickinson’s poems came to be criticized for being so concentrated upon death when so many other poets like Keats and Whitman were on a similar stand and often returned to this topic. Many have tried to categorize Dickinson’s about death and broken up her entire collection of poetic work into four categories on this matter:

  • Poems in which death represents extinction.
  • Poems which dramatize the possibility on the survival of the soul.
  • Poems which embraze a faith in immortality.
  • Poems about God and God’s care of humans.

In a letter to a friend (1850) Emily stated: “I am standing alone in rebellion.” She never joined the Congregational Church in Amherst. Another letter (L13) reveals her ideas on christian faith: “I feel that the world holds a predominant place in my affections. I do not feel that I could give up all for Christ, were I called to die”. I think Emily Dickinson was critical about organized religion. It’s quite clear from her poetry that she does hold some religious views but they are not bound to any traditional faith or system of beliefs.

Works consulted in this post

Emily Dickinson and the Church – Information from The Emily Dickinson Museum.

The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)

Review: ‘Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde’ by Franny Moyle

WHILE WE continue to lament the downfall of Oscar Wilde it is easy to forget there were other victims in this Victorian tragedy. Wilde was in fact a married man with two children when he was sent to prison in Reading. As the scandal became fact his wife Constance Lloyd Wilde quickly got herself and their two sons out of England. She was equally exiled and she did change her family name back to Holland. As wife she remained loyal and never applied for a divorce. She even visited him occasionally while he was in prison. She also came and delivered the news his mother had passed away.

OSCAR WILDE was one of my favourite writers in my teenage years and later I got know most of his life thanks to Richard Ellman’s biography. His wife was less famous so it was really refreshing reading this biography on Mrs. Wilde by Franny Moyle. In this “review” I will slightly refer to other books and papers. As I took notice while reading about Oscar Wilde’s life over the years one do get the sense he wasn’t always a very nice husband. From one interview with his adventurous love Lord Alfred Douglas’, or Bosie the ageing lord spoke frankly about Wilde’s relation with Constance Wilde and remarked that he often saw him impatience with her. This was at least a reported fact in Ellman’s biography and repeated by Moyle as well. Despite this Lord Douglas choose not to honour lady Wilde and blamed Wilde’s downfall on her.

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Constance Lloyd prior her engagement to Oscar Wilde.

Constance Wilde (2 January 1859 – 7 April 1898), born Constance Mary Lloyd she did not have a happy childhood since her mother abused her verbally and physically. Her father died early and the negative experiences with her mother made her shy and a bit withdrawn. The Wildes and the Lloyds knew each other since the irish years so when Constance met Oscar they weren’t strangers. Moyle uses a lot of previous unpublished letters as she draws the story of Mrs Wilde. It’s a well-researched biography.

Despite her brother Otho’s warnings (he had heard “something” about Oscar) she got married to him in May 1884 and idolized him from the start. It seem to have been a love-match and they seemed happy together. They quickly started a family and she bore him two sons. Wilde seem to have been sexually uninterested in her after the birth of their second son. He often complained she had gained weight and the boy-girlish persona she possessed before the marriage was all gone.

Life with Oscar Wilde

WE don’t know when Constance found out her husband was gay but he lived a double-life with her and the family. Most of his time was spent at various hotels in the city and he would sometimes live with her and the children at Tite Street, Chelsea although this was not very common. SHE seemed to have accepted her husband’s busy lifestyle leavening her to take care of their home and children. Despite being an absent father she shared his interests in literature and fashion. Both were involved in the Victorian Dress Reform Movement.

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Constance looking at Oscar.

She must have known about his sexuality by 1895 when Wilde was tried and imprisoned for “gross indecency”, or homosexual acts. After Wilde’s imprisonment, Constance changed her and her sons’ last name to Holland to dissociate themselves from Wilde’s scandal. According to Ellman’s biography on Oscar Wilde this happened after Constance was denied to stay at a hotel because of the Wilde family name. The couple never divorced and though Constance visited Oscar in prison so she could tell him the news of his mother’s death, she also forced him to give up his parental rights and later, after he had been released from prison, refused to send him any money unless he no longer associated with Douglas.

The Final years and illnesses of Constance Wilde

A mysterious ill health—headaches, joint pains, weakness and trembling in the limbs, partial facial paralysis and exhaustion continued to plague her in the exile. According to The Guardian, “speculative theories [about her death] have ranged from spinal damage following a fall down stairs to syphilis caught from her husband.” However, again according to The Guardian, Merlin Holland, grandson of Oscar Wilde, “unearthed medical evidence within private family letters, which has enabled a doctor to determine the likely cause of Constance’s demise. The letters reveal symptoms nowadays associated with multiple sclerosis but apparently wrongly diagnosed by her two doctors”.

mrswildeConstance sought help from two doctors. One of them was a “nerve doctor” from Heidelberg, Germany who resorted to dubious remedies. The second doctor was a high-society surgeon named Luigi Maria Bossi and he conducted two operations (for uterine fibroid) in 1895 and 1898, the latter of which ultimately led to her death. According to The Lancet, “the surgery Bossi performed in December 1895 was probably an anterior vaginal wall repair to correct urinary difficulties from a presumed bladder prolapse. In retrospect, the actual problem was probably neurogenic and not structural in origin.”(Alberge 2015) Bossi was also a professor of gynaecology at Genoa University and a fellow of the British Gynecological Society. Bossi fell out with his colleagues for championing surgery to fix now-discredited “pelvic madness.”

During the second surgery in April 1898 Bossi probably “did not attempt a hysterectomy but merely excised the tumour in a myomectomy” (Robins 1995). However, shortly after the surgery Constance developed uncontrollable vomiting, which led to dehydration and death. The immediate cause of death was likely severe paralytic ileus, which developed either as a result of the surgery itself or of intra-abdominal sepsis (blood poisoning). “Ultimately, both Bossi and the hapless Constance met their ends tragically: he by the bullet of an assassin and she by the knife of an irresponsible surgeon.” (Robins 1995). Bossi was killed by a jealous husband of one of his patients.

Resources

Dalya Alberge (1 January 2015).”Letters unravel mystery of the death of Oscar Wilde’s wife”.

Robins, Ashley; Holland, Merlin (3 January 2015). “The enigmatic illness and death of Constance, wife of Oscar Wilde“. The Lancet.